Discrimination Lawsuits Have a Short Timeframe in Texas
Statutes of limitation and other deciding factors in an employment case
on February 25, 2021
Updated on August 17, 2022
Although Texas is an “at-will” state when it comes to employment—meaning your employer can typically fire you at any time with or without giving a reason—there are certain situations that give rise to a claim of illegal employment discrimination. For example, if you were fired due to your race, color, religion, sex or national origin, that is illegal under federal and Texas state law. You can take legal action against an employer who terminates your employment, refuses to hire you for a job, or otherwise bases the conditions of your employment on one or more of these legally protected characteristics.
That said, you cannot simply march into court and sue an employer for illegal discrimination. There is a process you need to follow and certain time limits that must be complied with. The burden is on you to understand and follow these rules. An experienced Texas employment litigation attorney can provide legal advice, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to employment discrimination claims.
EEOC vs. TWC
The first thing you should know is that you typically need to file an administrative complaint against an employer before you can go to court for a discrimination case. This allows the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) or local agencies the chance to investigate your allegations first. The EEOC or TWC has independent legal authority to take action on behalf of unlawful discrimination victims. But if the applicable agency declines to act, then that clears the way for the victim to take direct action in court.
You can generally choose which agency to file a complaint with. And you only need to pick one. “It’s dual-filed,” says Colin Walsh, an employment litigation attorney in Austin. “If you file with any of them, it’s going to considered filed with the other one.” In other words, if you decide to go to the EEOC with your complaint, you are not required to file a separate complaint with the TWC, and vice versa. Keep in mind, however, that federal and state employment laws do vary, so if your complaint falls under one jurisdiction but not the other, you need to make sure you go to the appropriate agency.
It is also important to note that each agency has its own deadline for bringing a complaint. Under federal law, you must bring a discrimination charge to the EEOC within 300 days of the date the discriminatory act occurred. So let’s say you were fired because of your sex. You would then have 300 days from the date you were fired to file a formal discrimination complaint with the EEOC. Unfortunately, the TWC deadline is much shorter–just 180 days to file a claim under state law.
Even though the deadline for federal claims is longer, it’s still worth meeting the state deadline while filing with the EEOC. “If you file with the EEOC within 180 days, you’re going to preserve your state law Texas Labor Code discrimination claims, even though you filed with the EEOC,” Walsh explains.
Also, Walsh notes that it’s worth having a lawyer involved with the filing process. “In theory, it’s designed for laypeople,” he says, “but the way courts construe charges of discrimination and investigations that arise from them, it’s really beneficial to have a lawyer to make sure that you are preserving all of your claims and dotting all of the appropriate i’s and crossing the t’s that you need to, to make sure that your remedies are properly exhausted.”
Receiving a ‘Right to Sue’ Letter
The investigation itself can take anywhere from a month to years, and it’s not uncommon for EEOC investigations to last several years, Walsh says. After the EEOC or TWC investigates a complaint and declines to take action, it will typically issue the affected employee with a “right to sue” letter. “Once they issue the right to sue, you have 90 days from the date you receive it to file a [federal] lawsuit,” Walsh says.”
Deadlines are different for state claims. “You only have two years from the date that you file your charge of discrimination to file a lawsuit, or 60 days from the date that you receive your right to sue from the Texas Workforce Commission, whichever is sooner,” Walsh says.
Those state deadlines can be problematic: “If [the TWC] took the full two years to investigate it and then they issued you your right to sue on that two-year anniversary date, you cannot go ahead and file your lawsuit,” Wash says. “You would be statutorily barred.”
Getting a Lawyer Early Can Help
Employees who believe they’ve been discriminated against should contact a lawyer right away, Walsh says. “The deadlines are six months, 300 days. Those sound like a lot of time, but they’re not. They’re some of the shortest deadlines out there for causes of action.”
There are other deadlines that may be involved, depending on the type of claim, and they’re all pretty short. “There are a whole bunch of deadlines for employment law cases,” Walsh says. “And that’s why it’s important for employees to go talk to a lawyer quickly after they think something unlawful has happened to them.”
Can deadlines be extended? In some cases, yes, but Walsh says employees shouldn’t rely on extensions. “It can be very difficult to get around these deadlines if you miss them,” he says. “They do tend to be rigid, and you do see courts kick cases out all the time because of them.”